Two Daves and the year ahead

January 06, 1996|By HAL PIPER

I HAVE A FRIEND named Dave and a son named Dave, and within about 90 minutes last Sunday night I heard them both ring out the old and in the new.

''Here's to 1996,'' said Dave. ''May it be better than 1995.''

''Nineteen ninety-five,'' said Dave, ''was the greatest year of my life.'' But 1996 is going to be even better, if Dave's plans work out.

Generation gap divides the two Daves, but that can cut either way.

Dave the friend has fine health, a loving family and satisfying work. He's succeeded in getting his life to work out just about the way he hoped it would. He should be cheerful.

The optimistic Dave

Dave the son faces the uncertainties of life after college: finding a job in a skittish economy, finding a mate in the time of AIDS. He should be anxious, but he's the optimistic Dave at New Year.

As well he should be. Friend Dave's pessimism is too fashionable and too facile. It's understandable, though. First of all, we don't like to rejoice too much in our own good fortune. It's smug, and it may jinx us. Somewhere up above a God of Justice may even now be muttering, ''It's just about time to wipe that smile off Dave's face.''

Then too, friend Dave has outgrown the self-centeredness of youth. He knows only too well that a year of famine, genocide, terrorism, poverty, urban decay, rising crime, failed schools, racial tension, political rancor, trash culture and spiritual emptiness was not a very good year for most of Earth's 5.8 billion souls, even if Dave himself is doing OK.

But by this yardstick, all years are grim. All years always have been grim, and all years to come will be grim. No doubt we need to be reminded of the hurts and woes of others, but unless we believe in better possibilities we won't do anything to make a better world, except for us. Pessimism unleavened is fatalism: It absolves us of the sins of smugness and naivete, but that's all it does.

Cramped and bleak

How refreshing is the optimistic enthusiasm of son Dave. He has heard that the follies of friend Dave's generation have bequeathed him prospects cramped and bleak. Today's young,

it is portentously intoned, will be the first American generation to live worse than its parents. Dave may half-believe this, because respectable elders have said it, and Dave respects the wisdom of elders (as much as a college boy can). But the poor fool doesn't seem to be able to stay depressed about it.

Experts predict that you'll have to change jobs six times in your working life, the elders intone.

I know my skills and abilities, Dave says.

The good jobs are being exported to Asia.

Dave's eyes brighten; he'd love to live in Asia for a while.

You won't have health insurance.

That's right, Dave replies. How can I get some?

The planet is polluted and overcrowded, the elders expostulate. It is torn by hatred and violence, injustice and neglect.

Dave knows that, but seems to think, against the wisdom of his elders, that it's still a world of exciting possibilities.

Four couples celebrated New Year's Eve at friend Dave's that night. As it happened, each couple has a 21-year-old child who will graduate this year and venture forth into this rotten slum of a world. We told stories about our offspring, and the word that summed up these lovable youngsters, we agreed, was ''clueless.'' They're sweet kids, but about the world beyond college, they haven't a clue.

Maybe. I know son Dave has a lot to learn. But maybe we elders are the ones who are clueless.

Hal Piper edits The Sun's Opinion * Commentary page.

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